Red alert! It’s my Star Trek: Discovery – Battle At The Binary Stars (S1E02) Review
Well, here we are after the first flush of rekindling my romance with Trek. Can “Star Trek: Discovery” manage the ‘tricky second date’? TL;DR version? Yes…and no.
With Burnham’s mutiny halted, Georgiou confines her to the bridge and awaits Starfleet reinforcements. When her attempt to communicate peacefully with the Klingons results in the Klingons opening fire without warning, the resultant battle leaves the Shenzhou badly damaged. As the Klingons press their advantage, repeatedly exploiting Starfleet’s peaceful overtures, Georgiou and Burnham put aside their differences to launch a last, desperate counterattack.
The strength and history of the friendship between Captain Georgiou and Lieutenant Commander Burnham was obvious from the previous episode thanks to the chemistry between Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green but this episode opens with a flashback giving us a glimpse of their initial meeting seven years previously as Georgiou reflects on her decision to send Burnham to the brig. There’s something a little bit Jerry Ryan 7 of 9 of Martin-Green’s performance as Burnham’s immediate post-Vulcan persona but as the flashbacks start to flesh out the timelines of these characters, the curse of the prequel starts to come into sharper focus. If Sarek handed Burnham over to Starfleet seven years prior to the start of the series, that would make it the year 2249. One year later, Sarek would so oppose his half-human son Spock joining Starfleet that it would create a rift between them that would last for eighteen years. So far, the underlying theme of “Star Trek: Discovery” is that Sarek has been a far better father to his adopted human daughter than he ever was to either of his sons. I wonder if it’s because of the psychic hotline he apparently has with Burnham that allows communication across light years without technology?
For all its action, “Battle At The Binary Stars” feels both sluggish and rushed. The new Klingon messiah’s hard-on for racial purity brings the series back to Trek’s allegorical social commentary roots with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the point where they may as well be illuminating their bridge with tiki torches but the actual space battles are disappointingly anaemic. What were the creators thinking with the literal ‘pew pew’ phaser effects? The feeble dashes of light lack any kind of impact, dramatic or, it would appear, destructive yield. I know “Star Trek” isn’t really about the space battles but this continued obsession (carried over from the Kelvinverse movies) that starships should battle light Star Wars’ fighters is really grating. Nicholas Meyer understood that starships would fight like capital ships, hence “The Wrath Of Khan” providing the spacefaring equivalent of two 18th century frigates trading cannon fire. That hand drawn, painstakingly animated sequence is miles better than what “Discovery” shows us here.
There’s not much tactical genius on display here by either side in the battle. The Klingons employ a bizarre crashing tactic for no real reason or gain, apart from T’Kuvma seems to want to prove something that nobody has actually questioned: that he can make his ships invisible. Perhaps he’s forgetting that he proved that in the last episode, or he misread one of his underling’s subtitles. “Star Trek Discovery” needs to step away from the subtitles for the Klingons sharpish; it’s one of the primary reasons this episode feels so sluggish and the stilted, awkward delivery of the language by the actors makes it seem like it’s not their native language, so why bother? There’s another Meyer-esque nod in this episode as Georgiou and Burnham’s transporting over the to the stricken Klingon vessel feels very “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”, only this time it’s war, not peace, which hangs in the balance.
Character-wise, the show maintains its early promise. Doug Jones’ Saru continues to intrigue, even if he is being unsubtly set up to be the Spock/ Data of the series but because of the decision to focus more on action, the character moments feel too hurried. Burnham’s tactically astute suggestion to the Captain that capturing T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) rather than killing him would have long-term strategic benefits is completely undone when she herself kills him. I think it’s meant to represent a loss of emotional control in response to what’s just happened, but there’s something in the script/ shots/ editing which doesn’t quite sell the moment, undercutting the impact of what’s happened. Emotional inconsistency are tricky to get right in these kind of serialised dramas and without enough history with the characters, it can easily come across as incompetence rather than unfortunate. The episode then races forward further still to Burnham’s court-martial where she’s sentenced to life in prison for her actions and the audience discovers that “Star Trek: Discovery” doesn’t have a two-part premiere, it’s a three-parter and we’re going to have to wait until the 2nd October for the ‘resolution’/ actual beginning of the adventures of the Discovery.
It’s a shame we won’t get to spend more time with Captain Georgiou, although I hope we might still get flashbacks. She seemed like a Captain who would have got along very well with Picard had they not been separated by 80-odd years. Burnham, on the other hand, probably would have been great friends with [later seasons] Janeway.
Being so swept off my feet by the return of Trek, I didn’t comment much on the opening credits or theme last time out, but I’m not overly keen. They’re a little too “Doctor Foster”/ “House MD” for my taste. It’d be nice to see some space in there somewhere, and a couple of beauty passes for old time’s sake and while the theme is pleasant enough, it’ll take a while to grow on me. Right now it feels like it’s trying to please too many masters and the riffs on the classic fanfare feel awkward and inorganic. So, there you go. Praise and petulant cannon pedantry: I guess my inner Trekkie really is back.